Emeryville biotech's mushroom leather aims to reduce fashion's carbon footprint

Kristen Sze Image
Monday, April 26, 2021
Fungus to fabric: Bay Area company catches eye of Adidas
Fungus to fabric: Bay Area company catches eye of Adidas

SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Fungus for fashion. Could a material derived from mushrooms be the key to reducing the fashion industry's carbon footprint? Is it the "impossible leather?"

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A Bay Area biotech company hopes so. Bolt Threads is the Emeryville next-generation materials company founded by UCSF and UC Berkeley scientists.

Their latest product is Mylo, an alternative leather that comes not from cows, but mycelium. That's the spiderweb-like filament structure that fungi use to grow, like the roots of a tree. Sounds like science fiction, but it's fashion reality.

Designer Stella McCartney, Adidas and Lululemon, the French luxury group that owns Gucci, Yves Saint Lauren and Bottega Veneta, have recently announced new lines of shoes and clothing using Mylo. Bolt Threads founder and CEO Dan Widmaier joined ABC7 News anchor Kristen Sze on Earth Day to talk about the drive and purpose behind this innovation.

With global population growth accompanied by demand growth, Widmaier says we can no longer live or consume products the same way as we did when the planet had fewer people. "I think we're already hitting the upper bounds of what planetary boundaries can support with 300 million cattle a year being processed. i just don't think that's going to scale anymore. We need to find alternatives to serve consumer demand going forward."

Bolt sees its lab-grown leather using mainly renewable ingredients found in nature as part of the solution, one that's less harmful than killing animals or producing synthetic leather.

British designer Stella McCartney debuted Mylo styles in March, when actress and environmentalist Paris Jackson modeled a bustier and pants made of the "unleather."

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Adidas followed with an announcement of a Mylo version of its classic Stan Smith trainers. There are plans for its muse in handbags, wallets, shoes, jackets and more.

Widmaier describes the material as soft, supple and breathable. "Those are kind of the attributes that we think people love about leather. If you're going to make an alternative, that's something you need to do... We really wanted to make something that gave you what we call the esthetic experience of real leather."

Bolt Threads expects to announce more partnerships shortly, with products reaching consumers later this year. Prices are expected to be comparable to products with real leather.

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